Daunte Wright Shooting Trial Day 4: Prosecution Strategy Of Showing Jury As Many Bloody Photos As Possible Continues
The State did not, however, appear to substantively advance a theory of manslaughter based on today’s testimony.
Welcome to our coverage of the Kim Potter manslaughter trial over the April 11, 2021, shooting death of Duante Wright in a suburb of Minneapolis, when then-police officer Potter accidentally used her Glock 17 pistol in place of her intended Taser.
Today was the fourth day of the trial proper, and although today the State worked through seven more of its witnesses in its case in chief it nevertheless appeared to once again to do little but provide evidence on factual matters not in dispute and to which I’m confident the defense would have been happy to stipulate.
The State did not, however, appear to substantively advance a theory of manslaughter based on today’s testimony. Indeed, most of the day appeared to be an excuse to show the jury numerous and various bloody photos of Duante Wright, his vehicle, his clothing, and so forth.
Dr. Lorren Jackson, Medical Examiner
The State’s first witness was Medical Examiner Dr. Lorren Jackson, with the direct examination by ADA Erin Eldridge. Cross-examination would be by Attorney Earl Gray.
Dr. Jackson testified that Duante Wright’s cause of death was a 9mm round to the heart, and the manner of death was homicide—that he was shot by Kim Potter. I know—utterly shocking.
These undisputed facts took nearly an hour of direct and re-direct testimony. In contrast, the defense spent merely about 5 minutes on cross-examination and re-cross.
There was some discussion on direct and cross about how long someone shot through the heart as Wright had been would remain conscious, with the State arguing for zero or only a few seconds and the defense arguing for as long as perhaps a minute.
This would presumptively be arguing on the question of whether shooting (or Tasing) someone in control of a vehicle is per se reckless because the impaired driver operating the vehicle presents as a foreseeable deadly force threat to others.
Special Agent Melissa Loren, BCA Forensic Investigator
Loren was one of the half-dozen BCA investigators called today as witnesses for the prosecution.
Loren’s job was as an on-scene investigator, doing a walk-through of the crash and traffic stop scenes, collecting bits of evidence, finding Potter’s fired cartridge case inside Wright’s vehicle, having Wright’s vehicle towed to the BCA vehicle inspection garage, where BCA conducted a comprehensive examination of the vehicle.
This testimony took about 45 minutes of direct examination, and only about 3 ½ minutes of cross-examination—that brief cross-examination was interrupted by a 5-minute sidebar during which Judge Chu refused to allow the defense to ask about a digital scale discovered in the center console of Wright’s Buick.
The evidence she found was consistent with Potter having shot Duante Wright once in the chest at the site of the traffic stop, then Wright’s car traveling about a block until it crossed into oncoming traffic and smashed into the Lundgren’s vehicle, where it stopped. From there, Wright’s body would be removed from the vehicle by first responders and after some unsuccessful aid be declared deceased.
SA Brent Petersen, BCA Force Investigative Unit
Next up was Special Agent Brent Petersen, who works for the BCA’s Force Investigative Unit—this is the special unit that focuses on use-of-force events involving Minnesota police officers. The direct examination was conducted by ADA Joshua Larson, and cross-examination by Earl Gray.
The purpose for the State calling Petersen as a witness appeared to be so that they could have him explain to the jury what he personally saw on various body cameras and dash-camera videos. In particular, the State had prepared a composite video including the body camera of Potter, the body camera of Sergeant Johnson, and the dash camera from Officer Luckey’s squad car.
The major point of Petersen’s testimony was apparently to argue that the bodies of Johnson and Luckey were already outside of the vehicle when Potter fired her fatal shot, such that her use of force was not necessary in order to prevent the two other officers from being dragged in the vehicle.
Of course, the officers had pulled back from the vehicle only in response to Potter’s cry of “Taser! Taser! Taser!,” and by that point, she had definitively committed to firing what she believed to be her Taser—a use of force that would have been reasonable to prevent Wright from fleeing the arrest scene at speed in the Buick and endangering bystanders in his path, even if Johnson and Luckey were no longer in danger. In any case, had Wright chosen to reverse, the open car doors would have swept up all three officers.
The defense made strenuous objections to this use of Petersen’s testimony, basically narrating what was visible in the videos, on the grounds that the videos spoke for themselves, and the jury could make their own assessments of what they saw.
Apparently, ADA Larson had first proposed to make these arguments using still photographs, which the Judge had ruled against because the stills failed to capture the dynamic nature of the event. As an alternative, Larson then chose to freeze-frame the actual video—which is not, of course, substantively different than using the still photos. This led to repeated objections, allowances, more objections, and that brought us right up to lunch.
Separately, it was also notable that the State’s presentation of this composite video appeared to have been slowed down to 50% speed—without informing the court that this was being done—which suggested far more time for decision-making than was actually the case. Also, Potter’s body camera footage was offset a full second from the other two videos that made up the composite.
Separately, Larson had also used Petersen to attest to the particularly injurious nature of hollow-point bullets.
After lunch, Judge Chu informed the prosecution that she would not allow them to continue on this composite video path, and immediately thereafter the State was done with direct of Petersen.
On cross-examination, Gray drew out that hollow-point bullets were routinely used by law enforcement because they were safer for bystanders, and that Petersen himself carried hollow-point bullets in his duty weapon. Gray also drew out that a body camera could only capture a small fraction of the visual information available to the wider field of vision of a police officer’s eyes, as well as the officer’s ability to direct their vision independent of the body camera’s perspective.
SA Michelle Frascone, BCA Force Investigative Unit
Next up was Special Agent Michelle Frascone, also from the BCA’s Force Investigative Unit. Frascone was involved in evidence collection at the traffic and crash sites, as well as the collection of the Glock 17 pistols from Sergeant Johnson and Officer Potter.
The direct examination was by ADA Joshua Larson, and all we learned from Frascone was that Office Potter had used her own Glock to fire a 9mm round into Duante Wright.
So pointless was Frascone’s direct testimony that the defense did not bother to cross-examine her at all.
SA Sam McGinnis, BCA Force Investigative Unit
Next up was Special Agent Sam McGinnis, again from the BCA’s Force Investigative Unit. Here we finally discovered some interesting information, although little of it seemed helpful to the State. Direct was again by ADA Joshua Larsen, and cross-examination would be by Attorney Paul Engh.
For example, we learned that Kim Potter had received her Taser 7, a brand new model to the Brooklyn Center Police Department, on March 26, 2021, only about two weeks prior to her attempt to use it on Duante Wright on April 11, 2021. Indeed, it was suggested that at the time Potter was the only officer in the entire department equipped with this new model Taser. Indeed, it was unclear if Potter had ever received substantive training on the new model Taser.
ADA Larson also sought to make a big deal out of the apparent fact that Kim Potter had function tested her Taser only 6 of the 10 times she was on duty between when she was first issued the new-model Taser and when she sought to use it against Duante Wright, when policy called for her to test the Taser before every shift.
None of this meant the Taser was in any way dysfunctional because of her failure to test it—when it was later tested about a month later by SA McGinnis, it tested fine, with 78% batter, plenty to work as intended, even without any tests in the intervening period.
ADA Larson also made a big point out of the fact that the Glock weighed about 2 pounds whereas the Taser weighed about 1 pound. Larson also had McGinnis point out the various other ways the two weapons differed, including in color, grip size, lights on the Taser but not on the Glock 17, and so forth.
The implication of all this, of course, was that Potter should have known that she was holding a Glock 17 and not a Taser. I’d note, however, that “should have known” is the standard for a finding of civil negligence, not criminal culpability.
Criminal culpability requires recklessness,, an intentional disregard of a known deadly force risk, and by all appearances Potter believed she had a Taser in her hands. That mistake certainly appears negligent, but not reckless, and thus not criminal.
Then Larson proposed to have the jury actually hold a deactivated Taser in their hands, and apparently also hold a Glock 17 frame, I guess so they could feel the difference between the two, but Judge Chu did not permit this.
On cross-examination, Paul Engh emphasized that this was a new Taser–he actually twice called it a “gun,” and corrected himself, a clever ploy–and that any failure to test every shift had no substantive consequence, that McGinnis might know how often officers were supposed to test but did not know how often officers actually tested, and so forth. Engh also noted that when McGinnis had accompanied a consenting Potter to the hospital for a blood test for drugs, nothing was found in her system.
Notably, Engh also asked McGinnis if the Special Agent had ever asked the Taser company why they designed their Taser to be shaped in essentially a pistol-like configuration, instead of some distinct shape designed to avoid confusing Taser and pistol, and McGinnis responded that he did not know why.
Forensic Scientist Eric Koppen, BCA DNA Technician
Next up was BCA DNA Technician Eric Koppen.
All we learned from him was that the DNA in the blood found in the white Buick was that of Duante Wright, except for a small portion of blood in the passenger area of the car that was unmatched by DNA but almost certainly that of passenger/girlfriend Albrecht-Payton.
Direct was conducted by ADA Joshua Larson, and so pointless was this testimony that the defense declined to cross-examine Koppen at all.
Ballistic Scientist Travis Melland, BCA Firearms Technician
The final witness of the day was BCA Firearms Technician Travis Melland. He testified that a test bullet fired from the Glock 17 of Kim Potter matched the bullet recovered from the body of Duante Wright.
Curiously, although ADA Larson had Melland testify that the trigger weight of Kim Potter’s Glock 17 pistol was 5.5 pounds (perfectly normal for an OEM Glock 17), larson never obtained any testimony on the trigger weight of Potter’s Taser 7.
Again, so pointless was this testimony that the defense declined to cross-examine Melland at all.
With that, Judge Chu decided to recess court a bit early for the day. She did note that she had two written motions from the State to review tonight, and the defense indicated that they would respond orally in the morning.
ADA Joshua Larson also made a request for an in chambers meeting to discuss “an issue” before everyone went home for the night, but that was obviously done outside of the broadcast window for the day.
TUESDAY: DAUNTE WRIGHT SHOOTING TRIAL DAY 5 LIVE
Be sure to join us at Legal Insurrection tomorrow morning for our ongoing LIVE coverage—including real-time commenting and streaming of the trial proceedings, starting at 9 am CT, and then again at day’s end for our analysis of the day’s events.
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Know the law so you’re hard to convict.
Attorney Andrew F. Branca
Law of Self Defense LLC
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